Making haylage while the sun shines

Making haylage while the sun shines

 “This blog is the unfolding story of Rush Farm and an exploration of life by its philosopher farmer.”

We have had a good week. Obviously, recovery from what was an enormously successful camping weekend was a first priority. But that was anticipated. Tabitha and Chris received two lovely picture cards from all the class, and Boots was a very happy young man. He and Rosie then had an undemanding three and a half days before school broke up for the summer holidays. Speaking for myself, the return of my voice was perhaps a greater joy for me rather than the rest of the family, and strength is returning to my left leg. Life has become slightly easier for Anne as Sophie arranged for external help each day from the beginning of the week, and a routine evolved which meant her nights were no longer disturbed.   

The sun has shone, and for a few days Chris has been able to imagine himself on another continent, and the fact that he had no involvement in the management of Saturday’s local horse show meant no extra stress this weekend. I suspect next week I may have the odd story about that event to share with you.  

The sighting three times of a barn owl near the house brought real excitement, but on the farm itself, aside from the topper mechanism melting, matters were largely peaceful and successful. Given all this I feel I must first share with you two snippets of information which I found amusing: 

  • In Queensland, Australia, residents are requested not to refer to ‘shark attacks’ but rather describe them as negative encounters. I assume those attacked are adopting this new wording with equanimity.  
  • In our own dear country, our ever-resourceful Prime Minister in the course of one of one of his much-loved vacuous addresses, this time to an audience eager to hear how ‘levelling up’ was to happen, were invited to email him with any ideas they might have on the subject. Unsurprisingly, having expected to hear the government’s plan to achieve this task, the audience were left feeling somewhat bemused; it appears that rather like his past friend D Trump, it has not yet crossed his mind that a glorious sound bite like ‘Levelling Up’ requires some policy behind it. By the way, it is for me a cause of some amusement that Trump’s father, when he attempted to return to the fatherland was refused admittance and citizenship as news of his business behaviour had already crossed the Atlantic.  

I am still inevitably reporting on information about the farm shared with me rather than seen.   

News from the farm

If there has been one matter upon which all are agreed, it is that our pastures are looking good. Certainly, if I look out on our area of uncut lawn I can see why Chris, in particular, is being so positive. The fields identified for cutting for Haylage were cut on Saturday. This meant on Saturday evening the air was full of the smell, not of cut lawn but of but cut pastures, delicious.  

There has been a degree of topping, especially in the rented fields which did a great job in keeping the main herd happy. These fields are all made secure by the use of electric fencing, so if they are to remain secure, the fencing, on the herd’s moving out, has to be rolled up, and that area of field topped. For the massive thistles exposed, their removal required hands, and Tim spent a hot strenuous time on this task. 

Unfortunately, our 15-year-old original topper, after this week’s exertions, either requires extensive surgery or replacement. For those with long memories, it will be recalled that the topper was our main agent, especially in the early years, in suppressing thistle, docks and nettles. With much greater numbers of animals, its use has reduced, but the topper has certainly paid for itself.  

Staying with the pastures, now is the time for the wretched ragwort to start showing itself. So far regrowth seems relatively light and confined to the field which at one time was all but covered by it. There was a small patch of hemlock but weekly attacks on it solved the problem. 

The cattle have been moved and look good, the older calves have been weaned, very important since the last thing we need is the bull mounting a heifer that is still growing towards maturity. On Saturday Chris and Boots found a new calf had been born out in the field and both seemed well. No doubt tagging will be delayed to Monday. Flies were causing both animals great discomfort and Chris attempted to ease the problem.  

New Forest Eye has reappeared but is so far confined to two calves only. They need regular treatment which is much simpler to write about than carry out!  

We are again talking of the need to replace the bull, not because of his inadequacy but because we do not want bulls mating with their own offspring. We have talked again about perhaps keeping two bulls. At our first try all went swimmingly, and Edward, while on different farms has produced many good offspring. Our second venture was not successful. Captain proved to have a nasty streak and we could not consider passing him on to unsuspecting or inexperienced farmers. Consequently, he went to the abattoir.   

The sheep are needing some attention as the lack of trace elements is showing, and while the animals are being drenched, the number of dirty bottoms is evidence of the need for worming, which will be done at the same time as the drenching. To date the flock shows little evidence of lameness and I have yet to hear of a case of flystrike. Three of the ewes have had mastitis and so the size of the breeding flock is reduced. 

The three rams alternate between the two small fields set aside for that purpose, but even so, never get on top of the thistles and nettles, so the bigger of the two fields required topping. That small field is eminently suitable because the animals can find shelter in a number of places and can enjoy eating the drooping willow branches belonging to our neighbour’s garden. 

Pasture fed website news

The Pasture-Fed website continues to act as an information service for those newly entered into farming, but of course does more than just that. There has been a most interesting conversation about the role of cattle in Scotland in conservation projects. A major problem is undoubtedly the enormous growth in the numbers of Red Deer. This is bad for the animals themselves, and also for the destruction of habitat. No one really wants to face up to the fact that, save for reintroducing predators such as the wolf, the only alternative is to carry out a very major cull.   

Bindweed

An item which caught my eye was on the invasive nature of bindweed. Anne literally hates the sight of bindweed if found in the garden, as I suspect do tens of thousands of other gardeners. It appears however that garden bindweed and field bindweed have different characteristics. Field bindweed we can be relaxed about, stock graze it fresh or as hay or haulage. Moreover, its spreading power is apparently not so powerful as the garden variety.  

Extreme heat

Some weeks ago, drought was a serious topic. Now perhaps we should be turning our attention to the possibility of excessive heat and extended floods. At a maximum altitude of 53 metres, flooding is always a potential issue, but fortunately the full length of our Brook is less than 10 miles, and so floods bring water which tends to rise and fall rapidly. Droughts at the wrong time are seriously problematic, but I think we just have to find ways of working round the change in rainfall patterns.  

Extreme heat in the future is more of a concern. It may be that our thoughts on making our wet wood accessible to stock will have to be taken seriously.  As those of you who know the farm will be aware, shelter from the sun can be found in the vast majority of our fields but that would not really help if the temperatures rise too high.    

Beetles, bugs & birds The week has also been good for wildlife spotting, both for us and Danny. She, it appears, is a bug fancier, and was very happy to find something called a Noble Chafer Beetle. Beetles, I have to admit, take me back to childhood panic when a May Bug got into bed with me – quite awful and safety only came when I threw all the bed linen off, and it went. I have to say I have never seen one again and for all I know they may be extinct. 

The farm has almost all mammal’s resident except hedgehogs, doubtless devoured by roving badgers, but hopefully no resident badgers. As you know we have had otters in the Brook and once, feared a mink had been seen. Our brown hares are relatively abundant, and I am sure you have been told that Brendan had the enormous pleasure of seeing a pair boxing. A sight I have only seen once in my life and that was in Perthshire a lifetime ago. We certainly have Roe deer and Muntjac, but not I think fallow deer except sometimes passing through. We also have as you will know bats in profusion. 

As to bird life, it is very good news that barn owls are again in the vicinity. I think it was the heavy flooding in 2007 which led to them deserting us. While there must be at least one pair of Tawny owls in residence, for some reason little owls have not been seen for a year or so and if here, since they operate by day, they would have been seen.  

With the flying season for ants all but upon us, I expect the farms resident green woodpeckers to be much in evidence. This year the swallows have not nested in our woodshed, and indeed swifts have been more in evidence. 

The vegetable garden has delivered an amazing crop of strawberries, the herbaceous bed is a sight for sore eyes, outside by the window of my temporary bedroom is a glorious lily, and in the bed by our unused front door the hollyhocks have defied slugs and rabbits to add to the chocolate box appearance of the farmhouse. Roses are everywhere, and of many different varieties.  All this is missing is a thatched roof, which we don’t mind!  

The woods

I rarely these days write much about our woods, though at the right time of year they are really worth walking through. Our visitors last weekend photographed one of the two varieties of orchid found there. This is the common spotted orchid.  

Games

I cannot ignore the issue of the recent football competition. Let me be clear as to my position first. I have attended two professional football matches. I quite often watch a section of Match of the Day but essentially my interest in football is zero. Not because I went to the wrong kind of school, not because I I did not play at school – I was a semi-skilled player whose one attribute was that I was hard to get past playing left half. All this despite my asthma.  

Some considerable time ago I shared Sir Henry Newbolt’s poem ‘Vitai Lampada’ – the concluding line being ‘play up and play the game’. It was a war poem, and the game was death.   

That concept of the value of games perhaps peaked in the Victorian era, but was still alive for my generation, and I both owe it a great debt, and less helpfully, have never really adjusted to the modern world of professional ‘sports’. 

Team games especially were seen as an important for the lessons it was believed they taught. Teamwork, the importance of sticking to rules, learning to take victory or defeat with grace. In other words, learning to cope with the vagaries of life. Learning therefore self-control leadership, to moderate emotion, and perhaps above all about keeping a sense of perspective. As is often quoted: to achieve ‘a healthy mind in a healthy body’.   

Personally, probably because of my fight to stay in the game of life for many years, anger was never far from the surface, I was fiercely competitive and, worst of all, I expected to always win. That old fashioned approach to games served me well and helped turn me into the cuddly figure you all know. For me it was not always easy; amateur boxing quickly demonstrated that if I got hurt, the Queensbury Rules went straight out the window, and it is a stain on my record that I was once sent off in a hockey match for telling the umpire, rather too violently, just what I thought of his eyesight and morals.  

Largely because of this personal background, once games and sports became totally professional, my interest in them faded. Cricket I do watch and enjoy still because it retains a degree of what I would call civilised behaviour; spectators still feel they want to applaud good play from either side and, perhaps excluding the Australians, on pitch behaviour is relatively good. If any of you watched the ODI match on Tuesday night, you would have seen a standing ovation for the Pakistani batsman who scored over 150 runs helping his team set a huge target for the English batsman. Applause for the Pakistani team as fielders and bowlers. After a totally thrilling game which England won, both teams got full applause.  

What ought to have been instructive was the behaviour of the 20,000 strong crowd. Families, children, no separation of supporters, happy indulgence in the English pleasure of ‘dressing up’ absurdly in public. You would also have noticed the vast amounts of alcohol being consumed, and had your ears battered by raucous ‘singing’. You would also have seen no violence and certainly no hint of racism.  

Bizarrely, in football, behaviour is tolerated that offends every sense, and football ‘fans’ seem to include thugs, racists and frankly animals.  

I have never seen any sociological research seeking to explain the vast difference in behaviour between football fans and fans of other games. Are they just different populations, or is it something deeper than that? Indeed, is it simply down to the vast sums of money and commercialisation in football, meaning, as far as fans are concerned, let’s not waste money on stewards to enforce behaviour? Why is it necessary to have hordes of policemen in attendance to cope with violence before and after, matches? Normal for football but certainly not the case for other games. Moreover, it cannot be put down to drink – many of the fans at the Tuesday evening game ended up seriously intoxicated.  

All this is a long and convoluted way of saying that, for me, football fails on every front, and that feeling is not mitigated by the knowledge of the absurd sum players at the top earn. To all that, add the fact that I have no feelings of tribalism other than to family but, if tribalism exists anywhere in England, it must be in football.  

I would like to end this topic at this point but feel I cannot. The way the media whipped up absurd enthusiasm and ugly nationalism, I found truly disgusting. And then to top it all, the two most senior conservative politicians, who many would feel have consistently displayed and bolstered racial prejudice, come out after the match and hypercritically condemned the racism later displayed.   

All one can be thankful for, is the wave of solidarity that followed from people of all races, for the three victims of very ugly racism as evidenced on social media. I have no doubt that racism is alive in this country but the same confidence it emanates from an ever-decreasing pool of hysterics.  

Music 

Before it escapes my memory, I should like to draw your attention to a three-disc series of CD’s containing piano music performed by Horowitz towards the end of his long, long career. The odd missed or fluffed note fades into total insignificance as one is caught up in emotional vitality of his playing – in one’s mind’s eye one imagines this impish gnome-like-figure loving his playing while also keeping an eye out for any attractive woman in his range. The reality of course was very, very different. Horowitz suffered during his long career from stage fright, lengthy periods of depression and though married, was almost certainly homosexual. Those who actually saw him play suggest he hunched over the piano and looked at nothing but the keyboard. But forget all that and just enjoy the magic of his playing. 
 
There is a real gap between such emotional playing, and that of so many other masters of the piano, whose approach feels more intellectual and slightly cold.  There is also a gap between what one feels is real emotion and those who merely act it.  

Horowitz’s playing kept me going through the last three days of my hospital stay. Returning home, I turned to the masses of Michael Haydn for a different form of comfort. After that, giving three nights to piano music by Grieg, whose Holberg Suite has been a favourite of mine since the year dot, his piano pieces failed to excite, and I needed to look elsewhere. Eventually I moved on to a box describing itself as ‘phase 4 stereo’. Even I can remember the excitement when recordings became available in stereo.  

I vaguely remember some years later even more excitement, with the introduction of Decca’s quadraphonic recordings. My box set must originate from that period. In rich Hollywood sound, the discs seem essentially chosen to provide moments when the stereo effect is most pronounced. After two nights including on the last failing to find Stokowski conducting ‘Symphony Fantastique’ sufficiently calming, I reverted to Rubinstein and Chopin.  

University musings  

In my first term at university, I discovered that one of the courses to be followed was Constitutional History. (For the record, in my time as a student you had no idea of what courses you might have to follow, what their content might include, or in more modern terms, if there was a syllabus, and just to add to the joke, the cycle of university lectures was indifferent to the year you were actually in, and no relation in the lecture programme to which year you were in.)   

Almost inevitably this was not a good start. I had not been exposed to any history at secondary school, my tutor clearly felt grammar school products should not be accepted, was apparently lacking in any life forces and, of course had no notion of what teaching might be. Despite all this I did learn the odd bits and pieces; for some reason the Durham Report on the future of Canada came up, and with Canadian relatives, this did engage my attention. But perhaps far more importantly, I realised that in order to make sense of the way in which this country of my birth is governed, some understanding of our constitution and its history was worth acquiring., though in truth that reality came rather later in life.  

As is so common in life, what I gained in understanding bore little relationship to what I was taught. In fact, I should admit even that august body OFSTED took some years to realise that any judgement of a lesson should be based on what students actually learnt from a lesson.  

I spent most of my working life at a senior level in local government, but it was only in the last twenty years that I have come to a something closer to an understanding of the totality, largely through being outside government, which, as a farmer is second only to the weather as an off/on obstacle.  

The House of Lords, The House of Commons & history 

In recent months I have been giving thought to the House of Lords, not so much it’s role, or in particular its role as a well-paid resting home for those dumped from the House of Commons.   

But before looking back, it is perhaps worth acknowledging the troubles caused by having a system of two elected houses. Here this is not an issue though, when the Commons is dominated by light weight, not over-intelligent members, and led by ministers either ex-journalists, or without hard experience, deepens the reliance on the House of Lords to fulfil its present primary function – which is to attempt to ensure bills that go forward are not excessively riddled with error, since as I was reminded, judges have, apart from their other duties, to determine whether new legislation means what Parliament hoped it did.   

Sadly, at the present time, hysterically ideological or ignorant MPs can ignore advice from the House of Lords, since quite properly, it is the Commons, and the only body to determine policy. Strangely, on a different note, we live at a time when so many politicians have ‘glue-ears’. 

There have been three significant changes to the role of the Lords since Charles II.  

  • The first is the huge increase in numbers from around 50 then, to some 750 today. Until the time of George the Third, the membership of the House was restricted to the great nobles who held huge estates and in general took their responsibilities seriously, concerned for both country and the preservation of their own position. (I suppose I should not just ignore the Commons, but given its membership was to a significant extent determined by the great aristocrats, the Monarch needed to cause it to sit for one vital reason only: The Commons had a tight grip on expenditure.)  
  • George the third, the first of the Hanoverian succession to see himself as an Englishman, spoke English as his native language, and despite his position in the state of Hanover, expressed in every way, little interest in it, which was in fact an interesting replay of what happened under the Normans. Richard, he of the lion heart, spoke little or no English, and saw England as no more than a source of money and fighting bodies. It was not long after that, that nobles came to realise they could not be both French and Norman-English and hold land and position in both countries. Individuals had to decide to become either English or French. These nobles who remained in the main were those who held key responsibilities in this country.  

    George the third for the greater part of his reign is now generally considered to have been a reasonable monarch. He was also essentially amiable and established a much larger aristocracy than had previously existed and in particular created more nobles to ensure Pitt, who he favoured, held the post of Prime Minister. The overall result of this was to change the nature of the membership of the Lords and so weaken it politically.   

     
  • We then move into the Regency period, and though no doubt, the reality was not quite as portrayed in novels, the sense of duty and responsibility was reduced. Before that as spectators, the English saw France first, all but tear itself apart and then, under Napoleon, attempt to conquer Europe. (For myself the question will always be, why?  But that of course is a question that is irrelevant here). As after the Second World War, although at a rather slower pace, English society saw great change, and that change would see the power of the House of Lords reduce yet further. 1832 saw the franchise extended, ‘rotten borough’ illuminated and a society which no longer automatically would see its Members of Parliament bought, either directly or indirectly. The next erosion of excessive power was Peel’s decision in 1846 to split his party and abolish the Corn laws. At a stroke, food was cheaper, and, for the land-owning class, incomes dropped drastically for those who derived their income solely from tenant farmers.  

There were still significant moments of change to come, but the total supremacy of the Commons over the Lords was now firmly established, and the constitutional monarchy of today followed.  

Before concluding this ramble through history, which is of course my personal take on the past, I want to share a ‘piglet’ moment. I have never watched Downton Abbey or any stories of that kind. Probably because I have always disliked the notion of servitude, which offends my very soul, but… thinking of employment opportunities in the round, perhaps working in a big house – after all not all were places where brutality or lese majesty ruled – meant housing, clothing and food and security of work, together with career prospects. You lived in a structured community and not in the world outside, struggling to find work, food and shelter.  

In this world you derived pride from the position of your employer, and though the hours might have been long, and in winter the nights cold, a wider perspective might consider this form of servitude acceptable.  

Consider the alternatives, especially for women. Standard estimates for the number of prostitutes in London in the 19th century come in at 100,000. Was that a better option than being a maidservant? It is always a danger when considering a matter to allow your own assumptions and prejudices to cloud realities. 

One last notion to share with you: The Agrarian Revolution was in full swing by the mid-1860’s. This had a number of implications, of which I highlight two, of which the first was the reduction of numbers employed on the land, while the second was the reduction in food available as gleanings becoming less substantial.  

The year 1887 saw the celebration of Victoria’s reign. 1888 saw the arrival of Jack the Ripper on the scene. Idly reading through research papers I came across one from the University of Wales, which explored the effect on English society of these murders – incidentally, ideas that a royal person might be involved only came up ninety or so years later. In 1888 there was a tented community living in Trafalgar Square, poverty and terrible housing conditions led to unrest from the poor as unrest rose against the government for failing to catch the Ripper.  

The whole of the East End become regarded as a den of inequity, rather than White Chapel in the early stages of the investigation. I often remember a great aunt speaking of the Isle of Dogs as a good place to come from. She would have been born there probably in the early 1890’s. 

Every cloud having a silver lining, as many say, there were positive outcomes from these atrocities and this social unrest. A realisation came about that the poor were not simply bad people, but rather, those trapped by circumstances beyond their control. This led to a major shift in the thinking of reformers.  

Secondly the English were forced to re-evaluate what being English meant. As today, this had always been an uncertain matter, but probably, the consensus that had been arrived at was that character had to be the answer. As a result, since no Englishman could have behaved in this way, the Ripper must be a Jew or foreigner.  

Eventually the absurdity of this notion sank in, and the English were left in the same position as we are in today. Laws come up with partial answers but no more. I suspect collecting a group of people to share their views on the matter would fail to reach a consensus. Are you a British Asian or an English Asian? Is Marcus Rushford, English or British – for myself the answer would be English, but would that be his answer?  

The poem I have chosen this week takes me back to childhood. At bedtime I was always read a story or poem. This particular poem was a favourite of my father’s, and I heard it many times.  

No doubt all those years ago I might have known why, but though I come across it frequently I do not know why, of all Harold Munroe’s extensive folio of poets, this poem figures so often in anthologies.  

Munroe himself was a leading figure in the literary world of poetry for most of his lifetime, but I believe at the end of his life became very depressed, in part because poetry never seemed to have the hold on the English that it did in say Russia.  

Talking about the poem with Brendan we discovered that the general conclusion, was that analysis was impossible, and that perhaps is why we cannot shake it off.  

Overheard on a Saltmarsh by Harold Monro (1879 – 1932) 


Nymph, nymph, what are your beads?  
Green glass, goblin. Why do you stare at them?  
Give them me.  
No.  
Give them me. Give them me.  
No.  
Then I will howl all night in the reeds,  
Lie in the mud and howl for them.  
Goblin, why do you love them so?  
They are better than stars or water,  
Better than voices of winds that sing,  
Better than any man’s fair daughter,  
Your green glass beads on a silver ring.  
Hush, I stole them out of the moon.  
Give me your beads, I want them.  
No.  
I will howl in the deep lagoon  
For your green glass beads, I love them so.  
Give them me. Give them.  
No

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